We have a double Torah portion this week, Acharei Mot–Kedoshim. We in the Reform Movement know Kedoshim particularly well, because in addition to this appearance in the calendrical cycle, it is our Torah reading for the afternoon of Yom Kippur. Kedoshim tihyu, ki kadosh ani Adonai Eloheichem… You shall be holy, for I your Eternal God am holy. So it begins, and thus it is known as “The Holiness Code.” The Reform Movement chose it for the most sacred day of our year because it contains some of the most fundamental ethical precepts of the Torah, which have been enshrined in all of Jewish tradition.
On this Shabbat, I will restate one of the commandments of the Holiness Code, because it is one of 36 statements and re-statements of the same precept throughout our Torah. When a stranger resides with you in your land, you shall not wrong him. The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as one of your citizens; you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I the Eternal am your God.(Leviticus 19.33-34)
And since the Torah has stated and restated this principle so many times, please allow me as well to restate the obvious, as I have stated it to you on numerous occasions in the past. Virtually all of us here in America are either descendants of immigrants, or immigrants ourselves. My own ancestors came to America from Germany and Russia to escape oppressive regimes in which Jews had no opportunity to breathe the air of freedom and pursue their aspirations. I am grateful that America took them in. Both of them became loyal, productive American citizens, raising families and finding some enjoyment in life.
Throughout our history as Jews, we have known the perils and uncertainties of having to leave the lands of our birth and journeying to distant lands, into the unknown. Our Torah teaches us to remember the Exodus from Egypt so that we will make it our business to help the strangers in our midst, now that we are settled. It is one of the most fundamental precepts of our existence as Jews. And here in the Holiness Code, we are not only commanded not to wrong the stranger, but to love the stranger—for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.
On this Shabbat Acharei Mot-Kedoshim, during which this commandment to love the stranger is within our Torah reading, we will address the pressing problems of this very difficult time in America, in which the safety and security of the “strangers” in our midst are being threatened as never before. This Shabbat will be our Fourth Friday Shabbat. Kabbalat Shabbat at 6:30 as usual, and then a Shabbat dinner to follow ($10 please). And then after dinner, at 8:30, we will gather for an important discussion on this crisis. The topic is: What is Really Happening with Immigration? Our social action immigration subcommittee will welcome Ahsanullah (Bobby) Khan, founder of the Coney Island Project, a program working to combat racism and promote empowerment for working-class South Asians. He will talk with us on how we can help. I hope you will join us for this urgent discussion.
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